The Sacred Duration

J A N U A R Y    2 0 2 0

You told me that when you were a child, “God was always there,” meaning that the little girl you were back then knew God was always in the close background, very close, if not always felt as brightly as that time you remember lying on your back looking up through the trees at durationthe sunlight pouring through, all holy and golden, or the time you sat alone by the pond’s edge and tossed a pebble in and felt the circles spreading across its surface like some mysterious grace in the movement of things, or the times at night in the dark of your pillow when you mumbled a prayer under your breath and waited, and then the sacred presence came and felt like warmth inside you and you fell asleep inside it — those were the times when God broke through, closer than close, but the rest of the time, or most of it anyway, “God was always there” you said, just behind things, and you knew there was nothing you had to fear.

Then you told me that as you grew up those bright moments of closeness happened less and less often, and the certainty that God was always there became thinner and other things intruded until you were left with a longing for that closeness and certainty, looking here and there, in a lover’s arms, in a wise book, in a group of praying people, and sometimes it would come, but only briefly, as brief as a breath, and then disappear again amidst all the normal things, and the longing would return, calling you, calling for the trueness you could barely remember, and you wandered on, somehow staying faithful to it even when you couldn’t remember what it was.

Your hair is white now and though you know so many words and so many wonderful and terrible things about the world, your faithfulness and longing for that trueness has brought you back finally to the same quietness you knew looking up through the sunlit trees, and by the pond’s edge, and in the waiting on your dark pillow, a quietness not acquisitive but peaceful, that knows the sacred duration of God is “always there” in your own duration which is as spacious as this moment.

You know that the duration of the sacred is all of time and all of space. You know that we only call it “God” because we don’t know how else to describe it. You know that we only call it “sacred” because we need a word to say how it touches us with relief and awe so intimate and beautiful we could burst for the love of it. You know it’s always there. You know it’s always here. You know we can’t bear it too long, it’s too much for us, and so it’s given in these little moments of sacred duration that we cherish.